Submitted by tom2 on May 5, 2009

“study of” vs. “study on”

I am working in China helping professors and graduate students improve their journal articles. It appears ingrained in Chinese journal writing to use “study on” a subject rather than “study of.” Some individuals insist on “on” because it is widely used and accepted by some english language publications. Any comments on usage history here or other clarification? My usage history is for “of”.


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Are you talking about "study" used as a verb or as a noun? I ask because many of my students (I am a college teacher) use constructions like "X studied on topic Y" in their writing. I regard this as an error. The verb "study" does not take any preposition to link to the topic being studied. Though one might say "X studied from book Z," it should always be just "X studied topic Y." I have never come across "X studied of topic Y," but it grates even more than "studied on," to which I starting to become inured.

I have noticed that the students who use "X studied on topic Y" tend to be the weaker students, who write, and often reason, poorly in other respects as well. I do not think I have ever encountered "study on" in an essay that was otherwise well written and well thought out. Nevertheless, "study on" turns up so frequently that it cannot be simply a mistake. Perhaps it is creeping into the language. (I hope not!) It has occurred to me that it may reflect some construction in Spanish. I do not get many Asian students in my classes, but I do get a lot a lot of Hispanic Americans, including some for whom English is their second language. I am not sure, but it may be these who tend to write "study on." Does anyone know if the Spanish word for "to study" requires a preposition to link to the topic being studied?

If you are talking about "study" used as a noun, as in "Book X is a study of topic Y," then I quite agree that "of" is better than "on." I am not sure that "on" is necessarily out-and-out incorrect in these circumstances, it may be an established usage, but "of" sound a lot better to me.

Just to confuse matters, sometimes the noun "study" can take the proposition "in," as in the title of the Sherlock Holmes novel, "A Study in Scarlet."

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I don't think it's so much as to whether study is a noun, but which particular noun. If you're using study to mean the act of learning a particular discipline, I would say " of..." as in "The study of medicine requires a lifelong commitment". If, on the other hand, you're using study to mean a particular documented investigation, then maybe "study on" might be ok, say, something like "The environmental study on fish populations in the North Atlantic demonstrates the effects of global warming." I have nothing to back this up with, just an opinion as to which feels right.

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It's a matter of context and the desired meaning of the preposition. Compare:

"I wrote a book of poetry" (I wrote a book which consists of poems)


"I wrote a book on poetry" (I wrote an instruction book about how to write poetry)

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"Book" is a different word, so different considerations apply. "I wrote a study of [or on] poetry" is not the same as "I wrote a book of poetry." In fact, whichever preposition you use, its meaning is much closer to that of "I wrote a book on poetry."

“The environmental study on fish populations in the North Atlantic demonstrates the effects of global warming.” - Sorry, but I think that should definitely use "of" rather than "on." Using "on" in this sentence is a lot worse, to my ear, than using it in “Book X is a study on topic Y” (and even there, "of" is better). If "the environmental study" refers to a particular publication then "on" might just about be acceptable, but if it refers to the activity of studying, or to the general product of the activity of studying (various unspecified books or articles, or the accumulated wisdom therefrom), it should definitely take "of."

[This forum really needs to provide a way to use italicization. It could also do with a facility for previewing posts.]

[This forum really needs to provide a way to use italicization. It could also do with a facility for previewing posts.]

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If it had previewing, I would not have accidentally doubled that final appeal for italicization and previewing!

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Of course book is a different word. I was making an analogy solely (and correctly) to exemplify the comparative use of the prepositions of and on, "of" indicating specificity and "on" meaning "the subject of which is".

To reiterate, I'm comparing study, the activity of educating oneself, to study, the body of information created from an investigation. I'm suggesting the latter's use with "on" might be ok (By the way, Google vote: "A study on" yields five million plus entries. It's certainly common usage). Even with the latter, "study of" and "study on" don't mean exactly the same thing. That doesn't make one of them wrong.

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<strong>New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition. © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.:</strong>

1) Jan Baptista van (1577 - 1644), Belgian chemist and physician. He made early <strong>studies on</strong> the conservation of matter, was the first to distinguish gases, and coined the word gas
2) He carried out pioneering <strong>studies on</strong> sexual behavior by interviewing large numbers of people.
3) His <strong>studies on</strong> inheritance using the fruit fly Drosophila showed that the genetic information is carried by genes arranged along the length of the chromosomes.
4) Ivan (Petrovich) (1849 - 1936), Russian physiologist. He is best known for his <strong>studies on</strong> the conditioned reflex.
5) Ludwig (1875 - 1953), German physicist. He established the existence of the boundary layer and made important <strong>studies on</strong> streamlining

<strong>Oxford Dictionary of English, Revised Edition. © Oxford University Press 2005.:</strong>
- many early studies were done on a shoestring
- etc.

So "study on" is OK, as well as "study of". To my mind the difference is:
1. <strong>study of</strong> = <em>studying smth.</strong>
2. <strong>study on</strong> = <em>studying on topic of</em>


To italicize the words you may use such tags: <em><em>word in italics</em></em> (hope this will work :))

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"many early studies were done on a shoestring" - Are you under the impression that this is a relevant example? It is not referring to studies of shoestrings. "Done on a shoestring" is an idiom meaning done cheaply, at low cost.

I am sorry, but porsche's example with book is <em>not</em> a useful analogy. "Book on X" and "book of X" do indeed mean quite different things. The problem here, however, arises because "study of X" and "study on X" do not have significantly different meanings. I am certainly not saying either is outright wrong. Clearly, as Tom's original question shows, some people sometimes do use "study on." The question is, which is better, which sounds more natural to a native English speaker's ear. I agree with Tom in finding "of" distinctly preferable, though perhaps more so in some cases (where X=subject matter) than in others (where X=a piece of writing).

I have tried using HTML tags for emphasis on this site before and it did not work. Perhaps they have been implemented now. Perhaps some are allowed and not others. I need to experiment:

<em>Is this sentence, using the {em} tag, in italics?</em>

<i>How about this one, using {i}?</I>

<b>Is this one bolded (using {b})?</b>

<strong>Or this (using {strong})?</strong>


Hmm, it looks like you get an automatic preview below the box now too. Good.

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similarly- I am reviewing an article and they way it is written seems awkward to me (but I am an engineer). any suggestions?
a better way to write this sentence... perhaps a different preposition?

This paper studies the effect of slope on fire spread, BY a series of experiments
performed on a fuel bed with slopes from zero to 32°.

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